A serious accident can completely upend your life, often in ways you did not foresee. Faced with the trauma of the accident and working to regain your health, you may not consider all of the financial impact the accident has on your life. The Tuscaloosa accident attorneys at Cross & Smith handle personal injury cases throughout Alabama. You may be experiencing severe pain and suffering, both now and into the future, and the emotional toll of the accident may be with you forever. Your injuries do not only impact you, but those around you, who may now have to care for you, cover financial expenses, and take on additional chores, errands, and other work around the house.
Personal injury cases are among the most common forms of lawsuits in America. But for you, this is likely your only personal injury case, or one of few in your life. You probably have little idea of how to go about obtaining compensation for your injuries, whether a court case actually needs to be filed, how long the process might take, how to deal with mounting medical bills in the meantime, and a host of other questions. Not only has your life been altered by your accident, but now you must find your way through a complex legal system.
America’s civil justice system allows only money as a compensation for your injuries. While no amount of money can make you whole again, it is the best that the legal system has to offer, and money can provide tremendous assistance as you work to regain your health. One piece of good news in your personal injury case is that there is often insurance that covers the defendant’s negligent conduct and that will pay some portion – or all – of the money you are due. But in other cases, the amount of insurance money available may be very small compared to your injuries, and full compensation for your losses may be difficult to obtain.
In any personal injury case, it is important to have an experienced counselor and advocate on your side. At Cross & Smith, we understand that after a severe accident, having a competent accident attorney should not be one of your many worries. Our team has handled hundreds of personal injury and accident cases and successfully obtained verdicts and settlements of $1 million or more, and give every case our personal attention. We are aggressive, ethical and hard-working, and we will do everything we can to help you on your road to recovery.
In Alabama, as in other states, if you are injured in an accident that was caused by the negligent, reckless, or intentional acts of another, you may be entitled to sue and recover damages.
Litigation can be difficult and emotionally-draining. As such, many would-be plaintiffs are reasonably concerned about whether it’s worth litigating their injury claims — in essence, they want to know what damages they might be entitled to under the law, and whether those damages justify the potential frustrations of a lawsuit.
Have you suffered injuries due to someone else’s fault? Get in touch with an experienced Tuscaloosa accident attorney as soon as possible. Your injury claims have a deadline attached to their filing. Consulting with an attorney early on will ensure that your claims are assessed and litigated in a timely manner.
Let’s walk through some of the basics of personal injury damages in Alabama. By understanding the foundational elements, the extent of your damage recovery will be made more clear.
Generally speaking, damages are intended to compensate the injured party for their various losses and put them in as close a position as possible to their status prior to the accident at-issue. Compensatory damages should not unjustly “enrich” the injured plaintiff — they must (to the extent possible) track the actual losses suffered by the plaintiff.
Economic damages compensate the injured plaintiff for those losses that are financial in nature. Though there are exceptions, economic damages tend to be easier to measure than non-economic damages, as there is often a record of such losses. For example, if you are suing the defendant and attempting to recover damages for your current medical expenses, then you can introduce your medical bills into evidence to prove your expenses.
Economic damages include, but are not necessarily limited, to:
Future damages are recoverable, too, though they are more difficult to prove. For example, suppose that your doctors have recommended that you go through an extensive back surgery following injuries suffered in a car accident. At the time of your lawsuit, the back surgery is scheduled to take place in the future (perhaps six months to a year after trial). You can assert damages that include this future medical expense.
The defendant is likely to argue that some cheaper, reasonable treatment alternative is available, and that the back surgery is unnecessary. You Tuscaloosa accident attorney may introduce expert witness testimony from surgeons and physicians in which the cost of the surgery (and its necessity) is persuasively explained on the basis of medical evidence and healthcare cost data.
Non-economic damages compensate the injured plaintiff for subjectively-experienced losses, such as mental suffering. The difficulty with non-economic damages is in proving that the damages are an accurate representation of the actual losses experienced by the plaintiff.
Non-economic damages include, but are not necessarily limited, to:
Generally speaking, your non-economic damages amount will roughly correspond to your economic damages amount, though the two are not necessarily related. For example, if you suffer a minor leg fracture injury with minimal medical expenses and only a week of wage loss, then it will be much more difficult to assert significant pain and suffering damages. To show that you have experienced significant pain and suffering, you will want to introduce medical record evidence (and expert testimony) that specifically relates to your pain symptoms.
Unfortunately, Alabama puts damage caps on certain claims, depending on the defendant. In claims against a municipality (or an employee/agent thereof), you may be limited to recovering a total of $100,000, except in certain circumstances. In these injury scenarios, your Tuscaloosa accident attorney will help you identify possible co-defendants and other avenues for recovery.
Punitive damages operate on a fundamentally different level than compensatory damages. In Alabama (as in other states), where compensatory damages are intended to compensate the injured plaintiff by accounting for their losses and putting them in a position that somewhat represents their pre-accident position, punitive damages are intended to “punish” the defendant and discourage others from engaging in similar, wrongful conduct. As such, punitive damages can be quite large.
In personal injury cases where the plaintiff recovers significant damage amounts (in the millions), punitive damages may be involved. Still, it’s worth noting that punitive damages are rather uncommon in the personal injury context, as the defendant’s conduct must be malicious or egregiously reckless such that the court feels punitive damages are appropriate in the circumstances. Mere negligence is not enough for a court to award punitive damages. For example, if a driver is briefly distracted on the road and causes an accident, it is unlikely that punitive damages will be awarded. On the other hand, if a driver is racing his friend on a local road (driving more than 100 miles per hour in a residential area) then the level of recklessness may be enough for the court to award punitive damages.
Punitive damages are awarded based on the total compensatory damages. If a plaintiff is entitled to recover $250,000 in compensatory damages, then the court may award up to three times that amount in punitive damages — $750,000, for a $1M total recovery. Alabama law puts into place a punitive damages cap, however. A court may not award more than three times the compensatory damages amount in punitives, and there is a hard cap at $1.5M. If you are entitled to recover $1M in compensatory damages, for example, then the court may only award up to $1.5M in punitive damages, for a total of $2.5M in damages.
You likely have questions about the process. You may have heard stories from friends and others, and have misconceptions about the value of your case, your prospects for obtaining a settlement, whether you really need a lawyer, and all the options that you have. No two cases are the same. Please feel free to contact an experienced Tuscaloosa accident attorney at Cross & Smith. Call our office today at (877) 791-0618 for a free confidential consultation.
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"After my husband was injured in a burn accident at work, we felt the accident could have been avoided. I was not sure where to start, but after careful research, we met with Justin Smith and shared our experience. From day one, we felt we were in good hands. Justin and Dell explained everything and kept us informed from start to finish. It was a complicated case that took an outside the box approach. Both Justin and Dell made us feel like part of the team."